American Atheists and the Conservative Political Action Conference are having a do-over.
CPAC, an annual gathering of political conservatives wooed by Republican presidential hopefuls, has not only allowed American Atheists, a national advocacy organization, an information booth at its Washington, D.C., meeting — something it prohibited at last year’s session — it permitted American Atheist board member Jamila Bey a main stage address.
Bey, a Washington, D.C.-based writer and radio host, is believed to be the first atheist activist to address CPAC’s annual meeting. She spoke during the Thursday (Feb. 26) morning session. The conference began Wednesday and concludes Saturday.
“Today I stand before you not just as a fellow conservative,” Bey said from a podium before the vibrantly red-decked stage. She described some 40 million American voters, mostly millennials, as secular.
“I stand before you as a member of a growing Republican family that has inherited a new generation of potential leaders with millions of voters that we cannot afford to ignore,” she said. “The law is change or die.”
The inclusion of American Atheists at the event is notable because last year the group was disinvited after its president, David Silverman, made televised remarks that upset some conservatives.
“The Christian right should be threatened by us,” Silverman said on CNN in February 2014, just before that year’s CPAC conference, which would have been the first for the atheist group. Later, he said he was not attacking Christians, but the “notion that you need to be Christian in order to be conservative.”
“American Atheists misrepresented itself about their willingness to engage in positive dialogue and work together to promote limited government,” Meghan Snyder, then a spokeswoman for CPAC, told Politico last February.
Silverman then registered as an attendee and was able to distribute American Atheist materials at the event.
But the inclusion of Bey marks a significant step forward for organized atheism in the political process, said Danielle Muscato, American Atheists’ director of communications.
“Our politics have been dominated for a long time by religious, and especially Christian, influence,” she said. “The best way we can show freedom for everyone is to have a religiously neutral secular government, and that doesn’t mean an anti-religious government. It’s a huge step for atheists to show that political conservative and religious conservative are not the same thing.”
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